Acura TL

Debut: 2008
Maker: Honda
Predecessor: Acura TL (2003)

If TL want to survive into the next decade, it needs to deliver real premium quality and dynamics...

Acura TL used to be a Honda Accord pretending to be a premium car - its heart and bones had no differences from the America's second-best selling family car, only a classier packaging lifted it above the workman class. In the last 2 decades, this formula worked reasonably well in the North America, where people care less about driving dynamics. However, the world has changed a lot these days. Not only European rivals (especially Audi) have upped their game, its Japanese counterparts (Lexus IS and Infiniti G), American competitors (Cadillac CTS and maybe Chrysler 300C) and Korean challenger (Hyundai Genesis) have all invested heavily into rear-wheel drive platforms. If TL want to survive into the next decade, it needs to deliver real premium quality and dynamics.

Sadly, Honda once again refused to give it a dedicated platform. It still wanted to save money by building it on the current American Accord platform. It knew this platform is large, powerful and refined enough for this task. What it can't match the competitions is handling, which is inherently limited by its transverse-engine and front-wheel drive structure. To make things look better, it decided to make two versions of TL - one is the front-drive base car powered by Accord's 3.5-liter VTEC V6, which should start from US$34,000 and account for 75 percent of sales; another employs Acura RL's SH-AWD system and 3.7-liter VTEC V6, which will top US$42,000 and account for minority sales. In other words, let the SH-AWD car to get favourable comments from motoring journalists and fool the majority who will end up with the base car. Clever.


Now as large as RL, it effectively makes the Acura flagship redundant...

Based on the jumbo-size new Accord, the new TL is considerably larger than the old car - 150 mm longer, 45 mm wider, 13 mm taller and runs a 36 mm longer wheelbase. Surprisingly, it is actually as large as the flagship RL ! Despite the use of many high-strength steel parts and aluminum components – the latter consist of bonnet, front subframe and rear suspension knuckles – the car still sits at the heavy side of its segment. A SH-AWD model tips the scale at as much as 1805 kg, while the FWD model still weighs some 1680 kg. This works against the trend to cut weight and fuel consumption. In return, its customers get a roomier back seat and very good refinement on the road. Noise insulation and suspension compliance match the standard of European premium cars. It effectively makes the RL redundant. As we heard, the next RL will go upmarket. The TL itself competes with both the high-end BMW 3-series and low-end BMW 5-series.

The base TL's 3.5-liter SOHC V6 has VTEC variable valve timing and lift mechanism on its intake valves. Max power and torque are 280 hp and 254 lb-ft respectively, which looks good on paper but its torque delivery is peaky. Power goes to the front wheels through a 5-speed automatic gearbox. The lack of ratios doesn't do any good to fuel consumption, but at least its gearshift is smooth.


SH-AWD largely compensated the dynamic weakness of the Accord platform, making it far more agile...

The 3.7-liter SOHC V6 has VTEC acting on both intake and exhaust valves. Its 305 horsepower is barely enough to offset the extra weight over the base model, while its 275 lb-ft of torque @ 5000 rpm comes neither strong nor early enough. A BMW 535i produces 300 lb-ft of torque from 1400 rpm yet needs to cope with less weight. Similar case for new Audi A6 3.0T. The Acura is not easy to please the torque-chasing American.

Best of the bunch is the SH-AWD system. We praised it in the original Honda Legend report and we shall continue to praise it here. It could deliver up to 70 percent torque to the rear wheels depending on traction. Torque to each of the rear wheels can be altered by a multi-plate clutch at the rear differential. No wonder the car displays remarkably neutral handling accompany with superb traction. SH-AWD has largely compensated the dynamic weakness of the Accord platform, making it feel far more agile than its size and weight distribution suggested. In fact, it is the best handling Acura / Honda sedan in the current lineup. A BMW 335i is of course more fun to drive, but this is mainly due to its compact size, stronger powertrain and more communicative steering. The TL's steering, which has switched from hydraulic to electric assistance, has lost communication with the blacktop. It is also too light on-center for the taste of keen drivers.


The philosophy behind this car is nonsense...

Predictably, the base TL with front-wheel drive is no match with European premium cars in dynamics. It doesn't like to be pushed in corners, therefore instead of promoting a sporty character, Honda installed softer springs, dampers and suspension bushings and higher profile tires to the car to please civilized customers.

Unfortunately, the car is lost in the search of its character. If it really want to lure civilized customers, it should not employ such a controversial styling. Its interior should also be made simpler and more initiative to use. It reflects the bad taste of its California design studio. It reflects a "larger-is-better" philosophy that even Detroit's Big Three are abandoning. It is made unnecessarily inefficient and complicated, damaging the green commitment Honda shown in other recent vehicles. The car itself is not bad to drive, especially in top version, but the philosophy behind it is too nonsense to me.
The above report was last updated on 5 Oct 2008. All Rights Reserved.


General remarks

Acura TL 3.5
Acura TL 3.7 SH-AWD

Front-engined, FWD
Front-engined, 4WD

Steel monocoque
Steel monocoque
Mainly steel
Mainly steel
Length / width / height 4960 / 1880 / 1453 mm 4960 / 1880 / 1453 mm
Wheelbase 2776 mm 2776 mm
V6, 60-degree
V6, 60-degree
3471 cc
3664 cc
Valve gears
SOHC 24 valves, VVT+L (VTEC)
SOHC 24 valves, VVT+L (VTEC)


Other engine features

Max power
280 hp / 6200 rpm 305 hp / 6300 rpm
Max torque
254 lbft / 5000 rpm 275 lbft / 5000 rpm
5-speed automatic
5-speed automatic or
6-speed manual

Suspension layout
F: double-wishbone
R: multi-link
F: double-wishbone
R: multi-link

Suspension features
Tyres front/rear

Kerb weight
1680 kg
1805 kg

Top speed
155 mph (limited)
155 mph (limited)
0-60 mph (sec)
6.5 (est)
6.0* / 6.3** (A)
5.2* (M)

0-100 mph (sec)
15.8* / 15.7** (A)
13.5* (M)

Performance tested by: *C&D, **R&T

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